|Yes, this is how we live now: Ada County SWAT arrests a man for "disturbing the peace."|
When Daniel Webster warned that there will always be men who “promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters,” he most likely had in mind people like Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney.
Ironically, Webster’s brand of nationalism would have harmonized with Raney’s federal supremacist view of law enforcement, in which local police and sheriffs are duty-bound to carry out policies ordained by the central government, even when doing so pits them against the populations they supposedly serve. Not surprisingly, Raney is an ardent drug warrior, a proponent of civilian disarmament, and a stout defender of police militarization.
In June 2013, as nearly all of Idaho’s 44 sheriffs publicly pledged not to enforce any new federal anti-gun measures, Raney used an op-ed column in the Idaho Statesman to lecture the public that the Constitution’s “supremacy clause” means that “every state shall abide by the laws passed by our Congress.” Raney accused his colleagues in Idaho and neighboring states of being “indulgent” toward their misinformed constituents and “making hollow promises to protect you from the intrusions of the federal government.”
If and when Washington decrees that the helotry must be disarmed, Raney – while emitting great gusts of mournful reluctance, no doubt – would carry out the mission, displaying the same devotion to duty exhibited by his 19th Century predecessors as they enforced the Fugitive Slave Act: “[D]espite the fact that I personally oppose some of the gun control measures currently under consideration, my oath requires me to uphold the laws that are passed by our federal and state representatives.”
In carrying out that mission, Raney would certainly make use of the hardware transferred to his department by the Pentagon under the 1033 program. That prospect is obvious to observant Gem State residents, whose concerns prompted Raney to disgorge another op-ed column to assure local residents that his department has taken note of public concerns regarding police militarization.
Raney’s op-ed was published in the wake of the militarized police rampage in Ferguson, Missouri, during which the police focused their attention on protesters, while looters were left free to pillage local businesses. He admitted that the behavior of police officials in Ferguson was “abysmal,” and criticized them for responding to public protests “like a military unit defending Fallujah.”
Here Raney makes dishonest use of an expression that has become a cliché: No American military unit ever “defended” Fallujah; the defenders of that city were the ones shooting at the armored vehicles carrying an unwelcome foreign army of occupation. Raney’s linguistic subterfuge here is significant, because the language of his op-ed column is that of an occupier striving to win the “hearts and minds” of the subject population.
The real problem with what happened in Ferguson, from Raney’s point of view, is that it incited public disapproval of the Pentagon’s weapon-transfer program.
“The events in Ferguson have … called into question the militarization of police across the country and led the media to report local stories about that concern,” observed Raney or, more likely, his ghostwriter. “Here in Treasure Valley, law enforcement agencies have been given armored vehicles and other equipment.”
The actions of militarized police in Ferguson shouldn’t disturb residents of Boise and the surrounding cities: “This is Ada County where we use those tools to keep people safe,” Raney insists, echoing assurances offered by kindred officials elsewhere – including Ferguson, Missouri.
The real issue, Raney concludes, is “communication” – which for him and others of his ilk is a process in which the public dutifully takes dictation from its self-appointed overseers, accepts their pronouncements uncritically, and celebrates their wisdom and restraint in exercising their power over us.
Harboring or expressing dissenting views displays “ignorance” – a word Raney used just a few days later in an interview with Boise’s CBS affiliate while denouncing a proposed bill that would place the most modest imaginable restrictions on the transfer of military hardware to the police.
The measure, which is co-sponsored by Idaho Republican Congressman Raul Labrador and Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson, is grandly entitled the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.” If enacted, the bill would forbid transfer of some battlefield-grade offensive weaponry to police departments, such as armed drones and combat-configured aircraft. Most of its provisions would merely tighten up the bookkeeping involved in Pentagon transfers. The most laudable element of the bill would remove a requirement that agencies receiving those assets use them within a year – a provision that creates a perverse incentive for unnecessary paramilitary operations by police.
Rep. Labrador describes the bill as an effort to re-draw the “clear line between the military and civilian policing.”
Just days after appearing to concede that police in Ferguson had behaved like an occupying army, Raney sneered that the Labrador-Johnson bill “is bred out of ignorance.”
“I wish that the congressman would have talked to his constituency, and asked us here in law enforcement: how do you use that?” Raney complained. “This is something that helps keep our deputies, our officers, and our troopers safe. The military equipment many times can save taxpayers money. It’s not something to be afraid of.”
Labrador’s mistake, apparently, was listening to those who are being plundered through taxation, not enriched by it. Such people are not his “constituency,” according to Raney, and their concerns aren’t worthy of the congressman’s attention.
At this point it’s worth remembering Raney’s resolute statement that he would “uphold the laws that are passed by our federal and state representatives,” even if those enactments require the disarmament of the citizenry. The sheriff can countenance the idea of being commanded to confiscate guns from the public, but condemns congressional action to place negligible restrictions on his ability to get combat-grade hardware from the Pentagon.
Similar disapproval dripped from an op-ed published by Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Robert Ehlert. In the fashion of an “exhorter” following a circuit-riding preacher, Ehlert reiterated the main points made in Raney’s column, while heaping scorn on any stiff-necked unbelievers who persisted in thinking for themselves.
“I have no problem with Treasure Valley law enforcement agencies accessing these tools,” writes Ehlert. “I like the fact that the Ada County sheriff and Boise Police Department…have used their equipment responsibly.” Ehlert’s unqualified approval of Raney and his comrades contrasted with his frigid disdain for those who spread “suspicion about this equipment when we have no record of abuse in Idaho.”
Despite the assurance with which he pontificates on our local problems, Ehlert only arrived in the Gem State in April 2013. A little less than twenty years earlier a heavily militarized law enforcement contingent tried to annihilate an entire family at Ruby Ridge. One of the assailants, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, murdered a nursing mother by shooting her in the head while she held her infant.
In February 2013 – just a few weeks before the much-traveled “journalist” Ehlert was hired by the Statesman, a SWAT team terrorized an entire apartment complex in Caldwell during a midnight no-knock raid that was carried out on the basis of an unsubstantiated claim – made by a woman with a criminal record – that one resident had “threatened” her. David and Connie Johnson, whose home was the first to be invaded, were thrown to the ground and cuffed at gunpoint – despite the fact that the raiders had kicked in the wrong door, and none of the victims residing in the apartment resembled the suspect.
Michael Gibbons and Marcella Cruz didn’t receive the full-fledged SWAT treatment during the illegal raid of their home in Letha, Idaho in August 2012. They nonetheless were menaced by Gem County Sheriff’s Deputies clad in body armor and carrying assault rifles.
Marcella was assaulted by Detective Rich Perecz, and left with bruises across the left side of her body. Michael was forced to kneel with gun barrels trained at the back of his head while the deputies – along with Sheriff Chuck Rolland – conducted an illegal search of the couple’s home.
This raid was supposedly carried out because of an anonymous (and maliciously false) report of “domestic violence,” which would have justified a brief and unobtrusive “welfare check.” The military posture was deemed necessary because Michael Gibbons had been politically profiled as a “constitutionalist.”
I grant that it may be unfair to expect someone who helps edit a newspaper to stay abreast of local news, but Ehlert really should have been aware that on August 12 a SWAT team was deployed in Caldwell in an effort to apprehend a single suspected gang member, who escaped and was subsequently arrested through less dramatic means.
Six days later, the oh-so-responsible Boise/Ada County SWAT team was deployed in an MRAP to arrest a man suspected of pointing a gun at a pedestrian. This raid, which took place late in the evening, resulted in an arrest on a single misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace, which is the sort of thing that happens when police carry out a military-style raid at midnight.
On August 26, another midnight SWAT deployment took place just a few blocks from my home in Payette. The target was a 37-year-old man named Billy Palmer. According to the Incident Report, Palmer was the subject of warrants in nearby Malheur County, Oregon for “Fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer” and “reckless driving” – neither of which is a violent felony. His previous record in Idaho consisted of a single $47.00 speeding citation.
What apparently happened is that Palmer, seeking to avoid a traffic stop in Oregon, slipped across the Snake River – only to find himself on the receiving end of a midnight SWAT raid.
The Payette Police received an anonymous tip that Palmer had rented a room in a local motel and that he might have a gun. Rather than staking out the facility and waiting to arrest the less-than-menacing fugitive in a low-key fashion, the SWAT team was deployed.
A spotlight was directed into Palmer’s room, and a PA system was used to order Palmer to surrender. When Palmer declined to do so, the SWAT team stormed the room and took him into custody without other violence. Although Palmer was unarmed a rifle and a single box of ammunition was found in his vehicle.
This is a case in which Mayberry-level misconduct provoked a Fallujah-style response. Although it may seem trivial to statist scribes like Ehlert, overkill of this kind is abusive, commonplace, and representative of the gratuitous militarization of routine warrant service that results from the “use it or lose it” provision of the 1033 program.
Ehlert and the newspaper that employs him were directly implicated in at least one criminal abuse of power by Sheriff Raney – the exploitation of legally protected personal information in an FBI file to retaliate against one of the sheriff’s political rivals, former State Rep. Mark Patterson.
In early 2013, Rep. Patterson proposed legislation that would make it a misdemeanor for an Idaho peace officer to enforce federal gun confiscation measures. Raney, as head of the Idaho Sheriffs Association, opposed that bill, warning legislators that it would imperil federal agreements permitting police and sheriffs to conduct “asset forfeiture” operations.
After the measure was defeated, Patterson sent a letter to Raney demanding information on the sheriff’s potentially illegal lobbying efforts against a gun rights bill he opposed. The following day Raney sent notice to Patterson announcing the revocation of his concealed weapon license, claiming that Patterson had lied on his application by failing to disclose a withheld judgment on a felony charge nearly 40 years ago.
The news of the CWL revocation, along with privileged information from Patterson’s NCIC background check, were leaked to Dan Popkey, who at the time was a reporter at the Statesman. (He has since been hired as a press spokesman, ironically, by Rep. Labrador.) Both the retaliatory use of the FBI information, and its provision to the Statesman, were criminal acts committed either by Raney or someone in his office. (I have previously examined this story in greater detail.)
A withheld judgment is not a conviction, and once a term of probation ends the charge is expunged from the individual’s criminal record (although a residual record is still available through the NCIC system). An Idaho resident subject to a withheld judgment who applies for a CWL is eligible to receive one, and is not legally required to disclose the matter in any case. This was made clear by the Idaho Attorney General’s office in response to an inquiry by State Rep. Judy Boyle. Sheriff Raney reacted to Boyle’s inquiry by filing a spurious ethics complaint against her and publicly accusing her of criminal behavior.
This criminal misuse of protected information in a federal database to carry out an East German-style act of political retaliation revealed that Raney has the disposition of a commissar, which amply justifies public misgivings about allowing him to have access to Pentagon-provided war-fighting equipment. This conclusion is buttressed by a less grievous – but, in a way, more aggravating – abuse that took place earlier this year.
In late August, the Boise State University football team proudly released a video showing its coaching staff participating in a “team-building exercise” with the Ada County SWAT team.
The clip depicted Coach Bryan Harsin (who, as the beneficiary of a five-year, $7.5 million contract, is the highest-paid employee of the Idaho state government) and his staff being ferried to a training site in an armored vehicle, followed by simulated gunfire and flash-bang explosions.
Granted, no injuries resulted from that episode, apart from the routine plunder involved in all government operations. This little cosplay exercise underscores the fact that SWAT operators see their presents from the Pentagon as toys, rather than tools – and they should be taken away before more innocent people get hurt.
Update: As if to prove my point...
... Ada Metro SWAT carried out a raid at a yard sale in Meridian on September 22.
Update: As if to prove my point...
... Ada Metro SWAT carried out a raid at a yard sale in Meridian on September 22.
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